Photo: AFP
King Salman of Saudi Arabia
Photo: AFP

The Saudi's aren't yet Zionists

While there appears to be some communication between Israel and the Saudi regime on matters of security, this doesn't necesarily mean a new relationship is forming between the former foes. It is more likely another example of Saudi Arabia's pragmatic policies in light of the Arab Spring

Much was written in recent months regarding possible military and political cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel, with many heralding these developments as a new chapter in Israel-Arab relations.



They say that the newest page in this chapter of mutual cooperation is the Saudi promise to maintain the terms and conditions stipulated in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty as they relate to the strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Straits of Tiran, and therefore, Saudi Arabia is becoming a new Israeli ally in the region.


Can this be true? Is Saudi Arabia really warming up to Israel? Is a peace treaty on the horizon between the two countries?


The answer: probably not.


For an explanation as to why Saudi Arabia is behaving in this manner, one can look at recent trends in internal Saudi politics.


Saudi King Abdullah Abdul-Aziz saw the winds of change sweeping the region during the Arab Spring of 2011 and decided to enact various government reforms, including funding lavish welfare shakeups. After his death in January 2015, his brother, Salman, decided to continue—albeit slowly and cautiously—with these reforms, both in terms of the economy and in terms of governmental policy. This can be seen with the recent policy to allow women to become candidates in Saudi municipal elections alongside the recent decision to strip the Saudi moral police of their authority to arrest people.


King Salman of Saudi Arabia (Photo: AFP) (Photo: AFP)
King Salman of Saudi Arabia (Photo: AFP)

Due to the low cost of oil, the fact that one third of Saudi millennials are unemployed, and the fact that the kingdom is leading two wars in Syria and in Yemen, the Saudi regime is doing all it can to make sure that it doesn't lose its grip on the throne, while at the same time trying to maintain its role as the Sunni and regional power. Meanwhile, it's seeing the Sunni Middle East collapse around it and has begun to draw away from the United States in light of the nuclear deal with Iran amongst other factors.


The Saudi regime's policymaking—led by Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman—has been surprisingly pragmatic. The king and the deputy crown prince have proven to have an iron-fisted approach when it comes to external threats, and know that they need to keep the Sisi regime stable to maintain the Sunni front against Iranian influence in the Levant, while at the same time, understands Egypt’s importance in the North African region as well, especially considering the fiasco that is Libya.


Saudi soldiers (Photo: AP)
Saudi soldiers (Photo: AP)


In light of all of these more pressing internal and external problems and its penchant for pragmatic policy decisions, the House of Saud seems to be more willing to tolerate Israel and its existence, and even perhaps willing to deal with Israel indirectly. It should be noted that Israel was made aware of the decision to transfer the islands in the Straits of Tiran by Egypt, not through direct Israeli-Saudi channels.


If assisting Egypt means playing nice with the United States and Israel, and as long as the threats to Saudi power are the same as the threats to Israeli existence, Saudi Arabia sees no reason not to treat Israel with indifference, especially if by doing so will enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its long-term geostrategic objectives.


Yet the moment it’s no longer in Saudi interests to “play nice” with Israel—be it due to policy failure, public outcry, or any other number of factors—it should be expected of the Saudis to stop treating Israel indifferently, and return to supporting Israel’s enemies. One must keep in mind that Israel is still threatened by groups and organizations that aren’t in the Iranian sphere of influence.


In short, what we are seeing is typical Saudi pragmatism at play. Saudi Arabia has no “alliance” with Israel. While there may be quiet mutual understandings, the moment that the regional balance of power changes, or when Saudi Arabia no longer views the understood symbiotic relationship with Israel as convenient, the Sunni kingdom will return to the policy of antipathy and hostility which it maintained towards the Jewish state for the past 67 years.


This is what Israel should prepare for.



פרסום ראשון: 04.20.16, 23:41
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